The Iowa Legislature may wrap up work on the state’s four-and-a-half billion dollar budget this week but lawmakers will find it more difficult to find compromise on the gambling issue. Senate President Jeff Lamberti, a republican from Ankeny, has been working behind the scenes on a gambling deal, which he predicts will come together in the next couple of weeks. Lamberti says the tax issue will be resolved, but perhaps not to the satisfaction of “all the various players.” He says all parties will have to be willing to give a little. Lamberti says once the issue of how to tax the race tracks is resolved, his plan is to let the Senate debate related issues, like whether new riverboat licenses should be granted. Lamberti says “we’ll let everything else play out.” Lamberti says he can’t predict what the Senate will choose to do in terms of gambling expansion. Senate Democrat Leader Michael Gronstal of Council Bluffs has a prediction about the gambling debate.Gronstal says the final resolution will come on the last day of the legislative session. The budget plan republicans crafted passed the Senate last week and is set for debate in the House on Tuesday, and House Democrat Leader Pat Murphy says it does not include enough money to provide health care for poor, disabled and elderly Iowans who qualify for Medicaid. He accuses republicans of setting up a scenario that would force lawmakers to raise taxes early next year to cover a significant shortfall. Murphy says the G-O-P’s Medicaid budget is about 70 million dollars short, and the program will run out of money in early 2005. Murphy says if the state’s Medicaid program does run out of money, the feds would come in and run it, taking dollars set aside for other Department of Human Services programs. Murphy calls the republican plan for Medicaid “about as irresponsible as you can get.” But Senator Maggie Tinsman, a republican from Davenport who had a hand in crafting the Medicaid budget, says Medicaid spending is leveling off because more Iowans are moving off welfare and into jobs.Tinsman says there is no plan to set the state up for a tax increase, but if the Medicaid program would come up short, lawmakers could take care of it next year.Tinsman says one of the real fears republicans have is that if there’s extra money in the Medicaid budget, Governor Tom Vilsack would spend it in some other way. This past year, Vilsack shifted Medicaid dollars to boost state workers’ salaries.
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